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The Sound of Silence

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The Sound of Silence

5 minuten leestijd Arcering uitzetten

Picture the scene, if you will. A man attends a weekend conference. It is a theological conference.

While there, he meets the minister of the church in the parish next to the one in which he lives. She does not recognise him, but he recognises her as he has been to her church once. He strikes up a conversation with her as they have something in common. She is reasonably friendly, but not over-friendly. Some months later, he meets her again. This time they meet at a presentation which she is giving. There are many others around when he meets her and she is polite and friendly, but, again, not over friendly. A few months pass and this time they meet yet again. This time the meeting is at a gathering of people who are in various levels of local church government. This time, she is not on her own as she was on the other two occasions when he met her, but she is with two or three members of her own church council. He tries to say hello. She studiously ignores him, refuses to catch his eye and looks right through him as if he does not exist. It is as if they have never met, as if he were a complete and utter stranger. Now, he has never done anything to offend her. The only two previous occasions on which they have met have been as I described above and on both occasions they chatted briefly and had no contact in between. Neither had he talked about her to anyone else.

When I heard this story, I was not surprised and could quickly diagnose for my friend what had happened. She was using the art of silence to play power games. It is something in which I have noticed a big increase over the past few years- people using silence and ignoring as a social weapon. I have no idea why it has increased, but prior to the past five or six years, I had only very occasionally come across it. In the past five years, I come across it at least once a week, often more than that. It works very simply and is used to control others. Just as some people abuse with their words and just as others control and manipulate using actions and situations to gain power in any given situation, the 'silent treatment' is used to make the person ignored feel first of all wrong-footed, then excluded and finally to place him or her in the role of 'beggar' for the attentions of the one doing the ignoring. The one doing the ignoring is usually in a strong or dominant position within the group and the one being ignored is usually a newcomer to a group or community. The 'ignorer' acts as a kind of 'gatekeeper', controlling whether the one being given the silent treatment will be allowed into the inner circle or not. By ignoring, rather than by using words, the controller uses a much more powerful weapon and one which can be easily denied if the controller is challenged about it. After all, it is difficult to prove that you are being ignored and ignorers are usually very clever about it so that it might not be at all noticeable to those who are around, but is immediately noticeable to the person being treated to the silence. It is just another form of abuse which people who need to control employ, but it is certainly one which is on the rise. I don't quite know why, but it is.

The best way to deal with it, I have found, is to confront it immediately and make the person speak to you in some way. You don't beg for their attention and you don't stand there feeling embarrassed, but you start making loud conversation with everyone around to show that you are not intimidated. Even if you feel a fool, you still talk, because any retreat on your part will strengthen the ignorer greatly. The power lies in keeping you silent, in keeping you in your place. Once you start making conversation, you are showing that you will not be silenced. What I would have done, in my friend's case, would be to go to the minister's church the following Sunday morning, attend her service and then afterwards, when she stood at the door, as she always does, to say goodbye to her congregation as they leave, I would grab her hand, look her straight in the eye, smile broadly and chat with her about anything and everything for as long as I could and as enthusiastically as I could. She would be something of a captive audience, in every sense of the word. Don't let bullies get away with it!

The author is teacher and lecturer and got a PhD in Mission Theology and Christology at the University of Liverpool.

Dit artikel werd u aangeboden door: Reformatorisch Dagblad

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Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 24 januari 2009

Reformatorisch Dagblad | 36 Pagina's

The Sound of Silence

Bekijk de hele uitgave van zaterdag 24 januari 2009

Reformatorisch Dagblad | 36 Pagina's